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May 21, 2008 4:14 PM

The Bill Gates giveaway spam is back, but this time it's real

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few times a year, I hear from someone asking if I know anything about Bill Gates handing out cash.

Not through his charitable foundation, but through a tantalizing e-mail the person has received about "Bill Gates sharing his fortune."

The e-mail -- bogus spam that has been around forever -- says all you have to do is forward the message and "within two weeks, Microsoft will contact you for your address and then send you a check."

"It's all marketing expense to him,'' it says in a version saved at the urban legends archive,

For comparison, here are instructions from "cashback," the new scheme Microsoft unveiled today to lure people to use its Live Search service:

"On your first time using Live Search cashback, we will ask you for an email address so we can tell you how to quickly set up your free cashback account. ... Keep saving money each time you use Live Search cashback. Every time you make a qualifying purchase, we'll send you an email to confirm your Live Search cashback savings. When your cashback account reaches a balance of at least $5, you can claim your cold, hard cash."

It makes you wonder if desperate marketing executives in the Live group found inspiration in their inbox, in that old message about a Microsoft giveaway.

Either that, or they remembered the actual payout plan that Gates started talking up in 2005. From an interview he did back then with British tech magazine Computing:

"As search becomes competitive and people realize that other offerings are as good, or are even significantly better, there will be price competition,'' Gates said. "You will get some free content or a check, or some incentive to use a different search engine."

I guess every now and then, fairy tales do come true.

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